Dear Parent: Is Your Sideline Behavior Distracting Your Child or Helping? -
Soccer Parents Sideline Behavior

Dear Parent: Is Your Sideline Behavior Distracting Your Child or Helping?

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on the way to the soccer fields for Cali’s game.  With quick glances in my rear view mirror I can see her in the backseat, mindlessly staring out the window.

“Feeling ready?” I say.

A mumbled “yes” makes its way up to me in the driver’s seat.

We drive this way in silence for 5 minutes – me giving Cali an imaginary pre-game talk (sometimes I realize my face is even gesturing a bit as I speak with passion in my mind):  “Work hard, get your head up early, play simple” as I catch glimpses of her in the mirror.

When held out loud in the past, these pregame talks have not gone over well between she and I, so I am thankful I manage to keep my pregame talk to myself this time! 

I shift the conversation to the song that is playing on the radio, a weekend homework assignment, what we are eating for dinner that night.

I don't want my daughter to think I care too much about the game and her performance.

But I do.

And that, right there, is the problem.

Cali is 10 years old and I care too much about how she carries herself as an athlete. Unfortunately, she feels it. To her it likely feels like pressure, and adds an unnecessary burden that makes her personal fun meter teeter towards “not fun”. 

As much as I try to mask my expectations and force conversation about homework and dinner and music – my stress is noticeable to her. I can feel my heart beating just a bit faster in my chest.  My voice doesn’t sound normal to me when I speak out loud. 

This was me eight years ago…Thankfully - I changed.

It didn’t necessarily come overnight. In fact, it took a couple of seasons. First I had to grow to trust her coaches and developmental environment. Second, I had to find the balance between supporting Cali in her athletic endeavors and not inserting myself too much into her experience. When I stopped making her soccer more about what I was feeling than what she was actually feeling and experiencing (not what I wanted her to feel), everything changed. Our relationship improved.  Her love of the game blossomed.  Her joy and enthusiasm on the soccer field and with her teammates improved. I was happier.

While I won’t begin to say I understand every child’s playing environment or the dynamics that exist in the personal relationships between a parent and their children when it comes to car rides, motivation, anxiety or even personalities…I will say I see these relationship dynamics play out every weekend on the soccer fields.  

Parents on the sidelines insert themselves too much in their child’s performance and shift from supporting their child during a game, to distracting them.

Parents are given lollypops by team managers as a token reminder to keep quiet, we are asked to participate in a Silent Saturday experiment where the only voices heard are those of the players…and while these hopeful solutions to parental sideline behavior are laudable, they are not working.

We need a different intervention.

The sideline behavior of parents will not change until we understand we are not helping our child, we are actually hurting - distracting them from learning.

Learn more about the

Everything you need to help your child be inspired by the game!

THE NUMBER ONE THING PARENTS MUST UNDERSTAND:

The difference between SUPPORTIVE behavior and DISTRACTING behavior.

Examples of supportive communication are “Good Job”  “Keep Going” “You Can Do It’.   Supportive behavior looks like parents being attentive to the game, but not caring too much. We are not on our phones. We are watching all the players experience the ups and downs of competition with a level head and calm demeanor.

When we care in the wrong ways, or simply don’t understand how kids learn, we often become distracting.

“Push Up” “Pass to Johnny” “Shoot” “Quick!” These are all examples of distracting communication. The moment we shift to advising our children during the game, “Pressure” “Play it long” “Defend #8” we are not helping them develop.

As Doug Lemov, teaching expert and founder of Teach Like A Champion said in an interview with Soccer Parenting referring to coaches advising players during a game:

You can't teach anything during the game. You can only cue players to remember things that you've built into long term memory during practice. So if you're trying to teach them things during the game or explain things during the game, you're probably distracting them from the game and disrupting their performance and making them perform worse.

What you should be doing, if they should be getting wider or you want Kevin to give the ball up earlier - is instead of shouting to Kevin when he has the ball to “give the ball up earlier” - is making notes to yourself about what training should look like next week, possibly for your conversation with Kevin at halftime, that's a reasonable time to do that.”

When I asked Doug about the role of a parent on the sidelines during a game, he got personal about his sideline behavior, sharing about his experiences with his children.

“The answer for me (with my children) has been over time to say very, very little. It's taken me a while to get there.

“I think it's very hard to be useful for a lot of the reasons ... the only way you could be useful would be to tell a kid before something happens, something ... that was a cue to something that was reinforced in training. But I'm not at training so I don't know what the cue is and I don't know what the coach has been telling the players.

“There have been times where I was sure that my son was out of position and that he was supposed to be marking differently and after the game I was like, "So it seemed like to me maybe you were like ..."  And his response was: "No. Coach is telling me to do that. We worked on that all week in practice." 

Doug went on to say....

…I think there's a reasonable range of roles for parents to make but for the most part I don't think that (advising) is my role as a parent. I think my role is to - if I want to shout something - it's to encourage them and say “Great job”, “Keep working”, “Keep at it”.

In my experiences working with parents all over the country with Soccer Parenting, as well as my personal experiences on the sidelines with my children, distracting communication is a direct result of an effort to relieve parental stress when we care too much.

Even when I worked hard to keep quiet in the car and not overwhelm Cali with a pre-game talk she didn’t want (or need) to hear… when I got to the game – despite my best efforts – distracting communication would literally pop out of my mouth!!!!

It wasn’t until I truly stopped caring too much about Cali’s performance and the result - and let her and her coaches who I trusted guide her sporting experience - that I realized she cared the exact perfect amount about her performance and the result…. all I need to do was care about her.

Supportive, not distracting communication was all my soccer player needed from me.

About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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  • Tina O. says:

    Love this article. Thank you.

  • Yesenia Torpoco says:

    This was a hard one for me to learn too. With my GK son I now make an effort to sit on the opposite side of the field to try and not distract him.

    There are exceptions. There was one game this season where he gave up two goals (one he wasn’t expected to save, and then an easy one)in the first five minutes and crumpled on the field. I had to make a quick decision between telling him it was alright, kicking him in the butt, or being quiet. I chose kicking him in the butt…it was what he needed and delivered a heroic performance afterwards…but I’m cautious to go there only if absolutely if needed. Another time in a preseason scrimmage he gave up 4 (though he also had 4 really good saves) and came off the field at half in tears….he needed a hug, not criticism, so I gave him the hug, which is what he needed.

    I think you also hit upon that you need to find a coach you can trust. If you trust that coach, you shouldn’t have to be giving instructions. And most of the better coaches know that joysticking is counter productive since the goal should be to get kids to think for themselves, particularly as they get older and understand the game better. For parents of goalkeepers this is a particular dilemma, since many coaches don’t understand the position and may be giving the goalkeeper bad advice (and when they are younger they might not have the maturity to discount the bad advice), or even no advice at all.

    Great advice, particularly about the car ride home. Particularly as the kid gets older, they know what they did, and they don’t need the parent honing it home, particularly if they’ve already heard it from the coach. No one wants to hear from 7 different bosses that they forgot to put a cover on their TPS report.

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